A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership

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A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership

The Hidden Power of Ecological Worldviews

During the last decade, the sustainability position in multinational corporations has grown in influence. Much literature has explored how corporations can play an important role in solving the environmental challenges facing the planet. However, until now, there has been little research on sustainability leadership at the individual level. In this book, Schein explores the deeper psychological motivations of sustainability leaders. He shows how these motivations relate to overall effectiveness and capacity to lead transformational change and he explores the ways in which the complexity of sustainability is driving new approaches to leadership.

Drawing on interviews with 75 leaders from over 40 multinational corporations and NGOs, Schein explores how ecological worldviews are developed and expressed in global sustainability practice. By applying key theories from developmental psychology, integral ecology and eco-psychology to sustainability practice, Schein encourages us to think about leadership in a different way.

A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership will be of interest to an interdisciplinary audience of social scientists, educators, corporate executives, and social entrepreneurs. The insights from this book can be usefully integrated into leadership curriculum and development programs to help the next generation of leaders respond to global challenges.

I’ve been waiting for a book like this for over ten years! One of the most crucial things missing in nearly all sustainability discussions is an understanding of how to foster the growth of ecological worldviews. Schein redresses this through his study of the most advanced forms of sustainability leadership. In the process, he makes a powerful case that such an approach is essential to the future of sustainability leadership.

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, co-author, 'Integral Ecology'; Founder & President, MetaIntegral Associates

By offering a fascinating new perspective about the psychology of sustainability leadership, this book opens an entirely new type of conversation. It should be required reading for corporate executives, management educators and business students everywhere.

Joel Makower, Chairman and Executive Editor, GreenBiz Group

Although academic in format, this book feels like a dinner party conversation that lasts late into an evening because it is so compelling.  Evolving our core consciousness is an important quest for us and for our children and grandchildren. More immediately, besides business curriculum, this book has deep implications for HR, hiring and executive succession planning.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England

Schein's insights into the changing face of business management and philosophy are powerful and truth-telling. His deep exploration of the psyche and substance of corporate executives provides the basis for hope in transforming leadership and thereby, in the words of the ancient myths, new ways of "greening" the wasteland.

Dr. Jean Houston, author and Consultant to the United Nations Development Programme

In this deeply thoughtful book, Steven Schein illuminates our many ‘ways of thinking’ about sustainability. He shows how some of these mental maps allow us more motivation, more commitment, and in fact more degrees of freedom to address these critical challenges to our very survival than others. Marrying insights from psychology with an exploration of the thoughts and experiences of corporate sustainability leaders, Schein not only helps us identify the journey that is required of us all, but he provides the roadmap for our travels.

Mary C. Gentile, PhD Harvard Business School; author of 'Giving Voice to Values: How to speak your mind when you know what's right'

By focusing on the psychological dimension of sustainability leadership, Schein's book fills a vital gap in the change-makers' toolkit. Given the scale and urgency of our global challenges, we desperately need bold action from our leaders. With a skilful mix of personal narrative, theoretical insights and fresh research, Schein helps us better understand what drives sustainability leaders – and what we need to do to turn the trickle of change into a flood.

Dr Wayne Visser, University of Cambridge, Founder & CEO, Kaleidoscope; author 'Sustainable Frontiers'

Thought-provoking and insightful, A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership is of vital importance to the New Nature Movement.

Richard Louv, author, 'The Nature Principle' and 'Last Child in the Woods'

This book is one of the first to look at the personal motivation of sustainability professionals. It examines what Schein calls their ecological worldview, which Senge and others have referred to as the mental models that shape the way people think and act. Drawing on eco-psychology, environmental philosophy and related disciplines, including integral theory, Schein attempts to categorize various stages of consciousness about who we are and the world we live in. Schein’s interviews of executives help to uncover a pattern in the evolution of thinking from anthropocentric to ecocentric. He rightly points out that seeing such a pattern, and shifting to an ecocentric worldview, will be critical for business if it is to produce meaningful sustainability outcomes.

Chris Laszlo, Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University; co-author, 'Embedded Sustainability'

In this well-researched book, Schein shines a light on a poorly considered yet key aspect of sustainability leaders: the worldviews shaping their actions. The good news is that we have available the greatest tools for this task, and they are in the hidden power of the ecological worldview. Something to re-learn that can mean the difference between our civilization's breakdown and breakthrough. And it's at our fingertips.

Isabel Rimanoczy, ‎Scholar in Residence at Nova Southeastern University; author of 'Big Bang Being'

In this refreshingly readable book, Steve Schein develops the basis for a psychology of successful sustainability leadership by engaging us with his own story of growing awareness of his direct interdependence with the environment, as well as with stories of the 75 corporate executives he interviewed.

Bill Torbert, PhD, author of 'Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership'

Helping people and organizations understand their relationship to, and dependency on, nature is critical to creating the lasting change and sustainable future we all want. In A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership Steve Schein explores the important psychological connection people have to nature in hopes of sparking new conversations and research around corporate sustainability leadership.

Josh Henretig, Senior Director Energy, Environment & Cities, Microsoft Corporation

Along with technological innovation, harnessing market forces and transparency in the supply chain, there is an inner landscape of values and mental maps that guide behaviour in would-be green businesses and organizations. In A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership, Steve Schein helps to reveal the important and often overlooked “ecology of mind” that distinguishes effective sustainability leadership and performance. I highly recommend it.

Thomas Doherty, PsyD, Founding-Editor, Ecopsychology Journal; Past President, Society of Environmental, Population and Conservation Psychology

In exploring the deeper psychological motivations of corporate sustainability leaders, Steve Schein opens an exciting door through which so many of us will eagerly step. His groundbreaking work rightly deserves the attention of all those working towards more meaningful forms of corporate social responsibility.

Donnie Maclurcan, PhD, FRSA, Executive Director, Post Growth Institute; author of Nanotechnology for Global Sustainability

As the planet teeters on the edge of climate thresholds, CEOs demanding action have been sorely lacking. In this context, Schein asks: "What sets business leaders on fire about sustainability? And how can we spread that fire?" Our future might well hinge on the answers.

Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability, Aspen Skiing Company; author of 'Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Frontlines of the Sustainability Revolution'

Just as corporations must make changes in their cultures, corporate leaders must make changes in their thinking. This book offers a fresh perspective and offers new insights about how companies can advance and improve their efforts to become more sustainable.

Andrew Savitz, author, 'The Triple Bottom Line'

Brilliant. Schein’s work provides a look into a gaping hole in the sustainability literature. His research reveals the essence of sustainability leadership (and human behaviour in general): how we see the world informs how we think, understand and act. This engaging and provocative book examines the psychological underpinnings of an ecological worldview and leads the reader to a new understanding of sustainability leadership.

Mary A. Ferdig, President & CEO, Sustainability Leadership Institute

This easy-to-read book unveils a number of deeply held assumptions held by corporate leaders whose organizations maintain ecological sustainability priorities. Knowing them might help others create a "new" management psychology that will at long last consider the 7th generation.

Four Arrows, aka D.T. Jaocbs, PhD, EdD, co-author of 'Differing Worldviews in Higher Education'

This book is a tour de force, beautifully charting a path to planet-changing leadership. If you want to deepen your impact and cultivate the capacity to lead transformational change, Schein’s done the research. He guides you through the science of a stunning new psychology that can lead us out of the labyrinth and into a future we all want. This book and the worldview it heralds will deeply unlock potential for any change agent working toward a flourishing world.

Barrett C. Brown, PhD, Co-Founder, MetaIntegral Academy, author, 'The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism'

Confronting sustainability is about grappling with complexity in our social as well as natural environments. This book explores how leaders who surround themselves with that complexity end up rising to the challenge by growing their own cognitive and emotional complexity. While this central insight is an important intellectual contribution, the value of this book is its weaving of personal reflection and narrative with the journey of the research.

Jason Jay, PhD, Senior Lecturer & Director, Sustainability Initiative, MIT Sloan

Steven Schein has gotten great feedback from some powerful executives and proposes a new way of looking at sustainability in this book. If your career path is taking you in the direction of CSR or any role in the sustainability movement, I heartily recommend it as a must for your library.

John Renesch, US futurist; author of 'The Conscious Organization' and 'Conscious Leadership'; founder, FutureShapers

Steve Schein is the rare individual who can take on the dual perspective of manager and scholar to develop innovative yet practical lessons for business professionals.

Elliot Maltz, PhD, Professor, Atkinson Graduate School of Management, Willamette University

Much has been written and said recently about the importance of sustainability, but Steve Schein's book is particularly valuable. He identifies specific attributes of how effective leaders think, and what they are doing to make a difference. If you're looking for insights about how to move from good intentions about sustainability to effective action, this book offers real insights.

Dr Keith Melville, PhD, The Kettering Foundation, Fielding Graduate University

Readers will sail through this easy-to-understand, well-written and timely book on the complex and important subject of worldview among current and future corporate leadership for sustainability.

Kerul Kassel, PhD, author, 'The Thinking Executive’s Guide to Sustainability'

With the information overload that characterizes modern society, rare is the book that stands out from the rest. This one is it. To create change, we simply first need to be awake – in the fullest sense of that term. Second, we need to understand self and use self as the instrument for radical change. Refreshing, provocative and inspiring in turns, this book should be on every bookshelf and E-reader in the country.

Katrina S. Rogers, President, Fielding Graduate University

Schein provides sophisticated insight into the psychological evolution that must take place within the corporate world and evidence that it is happening amongst the leading edge of corporate sustainability leaders. Drawing on an immense interdisciplinary literature, his direct experience in the corporate world, his teaching experiences, his ecological self, and dozens of interviews with corporate leaders, Schein has produced a book that should find its way onto course syllabi at business schools, environmental studies and boardrooms.

Paul Haber, PhD, Professor of Political Science, University of Montana

At a time when the revenues of some companies dwarf the GDP of nation states, and supply chains are interwoven throughout the world, corporate responsibility has never been more important as a powerful force for our continued prosperity. Until now, no one has explored the psyche that motivates corporate leaders to protect people and the planet. Understanding these motives may very well be the key to unlocking a sustainable future for us all.

Tim Mohin, author, 'Changing Business from the Inside Out'; Director of Corporate Responsibility, Advanced Micro Devices

Steve Schein has provided a great service to the study and practice of sustainability management with this work. He has considered the psychological drivers – the why – and the leadership capacities – the how – that drive sustainability leaders. I highly recommend this very readable book.

Chris Librie, Senior Director, Living Progress, Hewlett Packard

I have read hundreds of books on sustainability and written one. But this book is different from anything I have seen. Steve Schein writes from his heart with so much authenticity and conviction that I read the whole manuscript in one sitting. Absolutely unputdownable, full of practical ideas, ancient wisdom, and the latest theories and research: an all-in-one treat for anyone seriously thinking of a making a difference.

Tojo Thatchenkery, George Mason University, co-author, 'Appreciative Intelligence'

Part 1: Introduction

1. Ecologically awake

2. The limits of “sustainability”

Part 2: Exploring the corporate eco-psyche

3. Perspectives on ecological worldviews

4. Life experiences that shape ecological worldviews

5. Anthropocentric blindness

6. The ecological self

7. Expressions of ecocentricism and ecological self in the corporate world

Part 3: How sustainability leaders think

8. Interior dimensions of leadership

9. Human development

10. Expressions of post-conventional worldviews

Part 4: The future of sustainability leadership

11. The collaborator-in-chief (with an ecological


12. Cultivating a new psychology for sustainability


13. Multinational executives as human trim tabs

Appendix A: Ecological Sustainability Worldview Assessment Tool (E-SWAT)

Appendix B: Research methodology and description of participants

STEVE SCHEIN, PhD, is Sustainability Leadership Expert-in-Residence at Presidio Graduate School and serves on the Board of Directors for Net Impact and the GEOS Institute. He has over 25 years of leadership, business development and management experience in various industries.

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